Size, Tank Mates, Diet, Water & More

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The flame tetra is a wonderful freshwater species that will always catch your eye. With their gorgeous appearance and low-maintenance care requirements, this is a fantastic choice for pretty much anyone.

In this guide we’ll go over everything you need to know about the flame tetra. This is a fish you’ll seriously want to consider owning!

Species Summary

The flame tetra (Hyphessobrycon flammeus) is a small freshwater fish that packs a ton of visual punch! These beauties are members of the Characidae family, a group of fish that includes popular species like the neon tetra and emperor tetra. The flame tetra goes by many names, including Von Rio tetra, fire tetra, and red tetra.

Flame tetra swimming in a freshwater aquarium

In the wild, you can find these fish in South America. More specifically, they live in slow-moving coastal rivers of Brazil and tributaries of the Rio de Janeiro, Guandu River basin, Tiete River basin, and more.

The fish first came to Europe in the 1920s before making its way to the American aquarium trade in the following years. In the 1940s and 1950s, these fish were some of the most popular around! They were highly sought-after due to their resilience in varying temperatures.

Back then, in-tank heating wasn’t standard, so a fish that could tolerate a wide range of temperatures, like the flame tetra, was the go-to. Today, this fish has fallen into the shadow of its more famous cousin, the neon tetra. However, it is still an excellent species to keep in your tank with very manageable care requirements.

Appearance

Flame tetras are hard to miss. The coloration is the most fascinating aspect of their appearance.

Most fish have silver or bronze-colored bodies. Regardless of the exact shade, the scales catch the light to create a stunning shimmer. A splash of red on the lower rear part of the body gives the fish its name.

The transition to red is natural, creating a flame-like effect you can’t miss. Red also appears on the fins, and they’re usually the most vibrantly colored part of the body. Like other types of tetras, these fish have elongated anal fins that run from the pectoral to caudal fins.

The anal fin features a black stripe on the tip, creating a beautiful outline detail.

Author Note: As a whole, Von Rio tetras have a trapezoidal body. They’re not as thin or streamlined as some other kinds of tetras, taking on a wider body shape. Typically, females are rounder and plumper compared to males, but males feature the most vibrant coloration.

Lifespan

The average flame tetra lifespan is between three and five years. That’s not very long compared to larger fish, but these beauties will offer your tank several years of beauty and whimsy.

As always, you can’t make guarantees when it comes to life expectancy. Many factors can impact their overall lifespan, and the quality of care you provide is a big one.

Flame tetras living in pristine conditions and fed a healthy diet tend to outlive those in poorly maintained tanks. Those fish can succumb to disease and experience premature death.

Average Flame Tetra Size

The average flame tetra size is around one inch long for a healthy adult. These fish aren’t big at all! On occasion they may reach lengths of 1.6 inches, but most don’t get to that upper-size threshold.

Author Note: The small size of the fish offers many advantages. Not only do you not need a massive tank to raise them, but you can keep a large shoal to create a wave of color more eye-catching than any singularly large species.

Flame Tetra Care

If you’re thinking about adding flame tetras to your tank, you’re in luck! This species has a reputation for being beginner-friendly. They’re hardy fish that quickly adapt to most tropical tank conditions.

But of course, these fiery-looking fish do have their preferences. Follow these care guidelines to help you provide the best life possible for your Von Rio tetras.

Tank Size

One of the most important elements of flame tetra care is choosing the size of the tank. Flame tetras are small, so they don’t need a massive aquarium to live happy and healthy lives. However, they need ample room to move around and cohabitate with tank mates.

The smallest tank size experts recommend for the flame tetra is 15 gallons. That’s enough to support the lifestyles of a small group of fish. Anything smaller could pose health and enrichment problems.

Author Note: If you have the space, don’t be afraid to go bigger. A larger tank can hold a larger flame tetra shoal and provide more decor flexibility.

Water Parameters

This species comes from the warm waters of South America, so they prefer tropical conditions that mimic their natural habitat. Blackwater-style setups are ideal, but you don’t have to go to great lengths to recreate tannin-rich water.

As mentioned earlier, flame tetras are adaptable when it comes to their water and care requirements. They do fine in most standard tropical fish setups, making it relatively easy to create comfortable and stable environments. Here are some basic water parameters to help you get things just right.

  • Water temperature: 64 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal range (Between 72 and 82 is when the fish is most comfortable) 
  • pH levels: 5.5 to 7.5 (Slightly acidic)
  • Water hardness: 3 to 15 dGH

In order to keep an eye on these parameters, invest in a trustworthy and accurate water test kit for your aquarium. This will make your life a whole lot easier.

What To Put Inside Their Tank

Here’s where you can have a little fun creating an underwater oasis.

Like any other fish, flame tetras prefer to live in tanks that resemble their natural habitat. Recreating these water conditions will ensure that they have everything they need to live comfortably. In this case, you should aim to recreate the slow-moving blackwater tributaries of South America.

Von rio tetra swimming near the bottom of the tank

Start with a fine sand substrate. You don’t have to worry too much about Von Rio tetras venturing to the bottom of the tank. They primarily occupy the middle and upper parts of the water column. However, they may swim to the bottom occasionally for play and scavenging.

Stick to a darker-colored substrate material. Dark sand closely resembles the grime and plant detritus that lives on riverbeds.

Author Note: To add even more authenticity, lay a few Indian almond leaves on the substrate. The leaves will slowly release tannins, giving the water some acidity and a darker hue. Replace the leaves every few weeks to create the perfect environment.

For decor, the best items are driftwood, twisting roots, and plants. Driftwood commonly sinks to the bottom of riverbeds, giving the fish plenty of places to hide and explore. Adding some pieces into your tank can offer a good amount of enrichment.

There are no specific plant species you must add. Anything tropical and easy for the fish to swim through is ideal. Preferably, stick to South American underwater plant species.

As always, don’t forget to equip your tank with an appropriate filtration system. Canister filters and hang-on-back filters are fine for the flame tetra. However, it’s vital to keep pumps and outlets to a minimum to meet the species’ slow-moving water preference.

Common Possible Diseases

There aren’t any species-specific conditions to worry about when it comes to caring for flame tetras. However, these fish can succumb to all the usual diseases and health problems that plague all freshwater fish.

One of the most common conditions to be wary of is Ich. Ich is a disease that takes hold when fish become stressed. It’s prevalent in poorly maintained tanks, over-packed or too-small aquariums, and environments that lack the proper enrichment items. When Ich takes hold, fish will develop white spots.

The worst part? It quickly spreads throughout the tank. 

If Ich becomes a problem, you must quarantine sick fish and utilize medication. Otherwise, the disease will kill your flame tetras.

These fish can also fall prey to parasites, bacterial infections, and other common ailments. Fortunately, most of these conditions are treatable. They’re also avoidable with proper care.

To keep your fish healthy, check water conditions regularly (this is an essential habit to build if you want to provide excellent care). While Von Rio tetras are adaptable, they don’t do well with sudden changes. Dramatic temperature shifts or a sudden lack of oxygenation can wreak havoc on their health.

The same goes for climbing ammonia and nitrate levels. Keep your filters in good shape and change about 25 percent of the water every few weeks to maintain healthy water conditions.

Food & Diet

Flame tetras often have a healthy appetite and can eat a couple of times per day. The best practices are to feed these fish daily and provide enough food for them to eat in three minutes. Anything more than that, the food will go uneaten and ruin water conditions.

What should you feed these freshwater fish? The easiest thing is commercial flakes or pellets. Choose a balanced formula that targets coloration to bring out that beautiful red color.

These fish are omnivores, so they prefer a mix of plant-based and high-protein foods. In addition to commercial foods, you can provide occasional snacks. Some good food items to provide include:

  • Bloodworms
  • Daphnia
  • Brine shrimp
  • Mosquito larvae
  • Plant detritus
  • Algae-based foods

Behavior & Temperament

Flame tetras are worth considering if you’re looking for a peaceful community fish that can live with others.

These fish are docile and playful. They’re shoaling fish that prefer to live in groups. Throughout the day, the group will swim around as a unit, creating a wonderful display of color and shimmer. Then, they’ll go their separate ways and be independent.

Flame tetras love to use their environment for enrichment. You’ll find them swimming in and out of plants, exploring driftwood, and more. Fighting usually isn’t an issue, but males might compete for a female’s attention.

That could result in some aggressive behavior, but it rarely results in injury or significant problems.

Tank Mates

Flame tetras can get along with just about any fish, but their small size does make them a target.

The best tank mates are other flame tetras. It’s best to keep these fish in groups of six or more. Keeping a flame tetra on its own will likely lead to health issues and poor quality of life.

Beyond others of its own kind, these fish can live peacefully with other small tetras and docile species. Avoid any troublemakers or known aggressive freshwater fish like cichlids.

Larger fish aren’t a good idea, either. That includes large tetras. The small size of the flame tetra makes it an easy target for hungry fish. It’s best to keep tank mates roughly the same size as the flame tetra.

Some good tank mates to consider for the flame tetra include:

Breeding

Breeding the flame tetra is more attainable than many realize. They’re a good choice for first-time breeders looking to see success with egg-layers.

Start by creating a breeding tank. A smaller 10-gallon tank is all you need. Fill it with fine-leaf plants like java moss.

As you set the tank up, condition your male and female fish. You can offer high-protein foods before introducing them to the tank. Breeders usually recommend placing the female into the tank first before adding the male an hour before sundown.

Raise the temperature in the tank to about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the pair should breed shortly after dawn.

Females can lay upwards of 500 eggs at one time. After she deposits her eggs, remove the adult fish. They exhibit no parental instincts and will likely try to eat the eggs if you keep them in.

Flame tetra eggs hatch within one or two days. They will survive off the egg sac for a further two days before becoming free-swimming.

At that point, you can provide industrial food before moving to baby brine shrimp. Keep the fry in the nursery tank for at least six months before moving them in with other adult Von Rio tetras.

Wrapping Up

Flame tetra care can be managed by anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced aquarist or a newcomer looking for their first fish, this is a species that won’t give you trouble.

If you have any questions about these fish, let us know! We’re always happy to help.


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